Cockrell School

Celebration attendees cheer as the Cockrell School of Engineering broke ground on its new Engineering Education and Research Center on Thursday afternoon.
Photo Credit: Andy Nguyen | Daily Texan Staff

The Cockrell School of Engineering celebrated the groundbreaking of its new Engineering Education and Research Center on Thursday.

The 430,000 square-foot center, which will cost approximately $310 million to construct, will be one of the largest structures ever constructed on campus and will include two connected eight-story towers. The groundbreaking ceremony for the center took place on its construction site, which is directly adjacent to the Cockrell School. 

The center is one of the most important facilities the University has constructed in decades, according to President William Powers Jr., who spoke at the ceremony.

“As we know, engineering is critical to the advancement of the state,” Powers said. “We need more engineers, and we need research in engineering, and this building will do both of those. Our facilities needed to reflect the 21st century.”

Having a world-class engineering school is crucial for a flagship university such as UT, according to UT System Chancellor William McRaven, who also spoke at the ceremony.

“We all know the field of engineering is inextricably linked to the economic success of Texas, and the Cockrell School is the epicenter of engineering education,” McRaven said. “Maintaining the status quo is not good enough for this school.”

Detailed planning for the center began three years ago. Powers said despite initial challenges in fundraising, the project is currently under-budget, and the University has raised $65 million for the center.

Powers said the center will have modern project rooms with open glass windows and feature hubs for engineering students to create and share ideas.

It will replace a 50-year-old Engineering-Science Building that was overdue for change, Cockrell School dean Sharon L. Wood said.

“Our facilities had not kept up with the technology,” Wood said. “It’s very hard to attract excellent students and faculty, telling them that you’re doing cutting edge research, if your facilities can’t support it, so that’s why we’re so excited about it. It’s going to really showcase engineering.”

Wood said the center will allow the Cockrell School to increase enrollment by 1,000 students, from its current enrollment of roughly 7,700 students. 

The old Engineering Science Building strongly lacked basic modern resources, such as electrical outlets in study locations, according to Anuj Kudva, biomedical engineering senior and Student Engineering Council president.

“It was ironic in the sense that there was world-class research going on there, yet it was more than 40 years out-of-date,” Kudva said. 

In this semester finale of The Daily Texan podcast, hosts Anthony Green and Madlin Mekelburg discuss the past week in news including student-led protests against the Eric Garner ruling and UT’s involvement with a company known for using sweatshop labor. The team also discusses APD receiving official police body cameras and the gender imbalance within the Cockrell School of Engineering.  

The Cockrell School of Engineering aims to achieve gender balance in classrooms and began an initiative in January to increase the number of women entering the program.

Photo Credit: Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

As the Cockrell School of Engineering aims to achieve gender balance in its classrooms, some engineering women still feel outnumbered.

According to statistics from the Women in Engineering Program, or WEP, the gap is largest in the electrical, aerospace and mechanical engineering departments, where, this fall, 15.0, 15.4 and 18.8 percent of undergraduate students are women, respectively. 

“Those departments are really focused on trying to improve that gap because, if I look at biomedical engineering, it’s over 40 percent women, but mechanical and electrical are under 20 percent,” Cockrell School dean Sharon Wood said. “So, if your two biggest departments are the ones with the smallest ratios, that’s where the efforts are being concentrated.” 

While there is a large number of women in biomedical engineering senior Samantha Collins’ biomedical engineering courses — where 44.9 percent of undergraduate enrollees are female — courses she has taken in electrical engineering have been male-dominated.

“There were definitely some girls in there, but it wasn’t as well-distributed as the BME classes,” Collins said. 

Civil engineering senior Kirstin Rose said she was one of two girls in a mechanical engineering design course she took her freshman year. She said her civil engineering courses tend to be more gender balanced, but there are still more male students.

According to WEP, 38.3 percent of the undergraduate civil engineering students are women. 

To combat the gender imbalances in mechanical engineering, the Cockrell School began an initiative in January to increase the number of women entering the program to 35 percent in five years. 

WEP has also developed programs such as “Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day,” which gives young girls the opportunity to come to the UT campus to meet professors and learn about engineering.

WEP director Tricia Berry said the program has also designed initiatives to reach out to female high school students admitted into the engineering college.  

“At the Cockrell-school level we also phone call, email and meet female prospective students and admitted students all in an effort to recruit them to come,” Berry said in an email. 

According to Berry, since WEP started in 1992, the percentage of women in the Cockrell School has grown from 16 to 25 percent. 

“[The growth] is from the fact that there has been these outreach activities over a long period of time — over 15 years of trying to get kids excited and thinking of engineering as an opportunity,” Wood said. 

Wood said the growth in the number of women studying engineering could also be attributed to the most recent financial crisis, since most people who get out of college today don’t want to worry about finding a good job along with a burdening debt. 

“Engineering gives that stability in jobs, and plus there was all that press about how many more engineers we’re going to need as we move forward,” Wood said.

Photo Credit: Griffin Smith | Daily Texan Staff

The Longhorn Maker Studio had its official grand opening Monday afternoon, welcoming all students and faculty in the Cockrell School
of Engineering.

According to mechanical engineering professor Desiderio Kovar, the studio has unofficially been open since Sept. 2 and has since been a place where students can come in and work on school projects or create prototypes for personal inventions.

“This is really a pilot,” Kovar said. “We are going to try out a whole lot of ideas here. Our plan is ultimately to move this [studio] to the new [Engineering Education and Research Center] building and hopefully will be the center piece of the building. We’re trying out new ideas and seeing what works.”

Studio manager Steve Ferraro said the new studio is an innovative center that gives students the opportunity to enjoy themselves.

“In the process of doing that, [students] can learn about some of the state-of-the-art technology available to them at no cost,” Ferraro said. “I’ve seen a lot of innovative ideas come out of the 3-D printers. Any student will tell you that this is an awesome place to have available for them to do work.”

Kovar said he wanted to emphasize the creative aspect of the studio.

Because of the new amenity, faculty members in the engineering school can come up with new ideas or projects for their students that could not have been done before the studio’s establishment.

“Funding came from the Cockrell School of Engineering and the mechanical engineering department,” Kovar said. “Cockrell paid for the renovations of the space as well as the salary of the staff and student employees. Corporate donations from the mechanical engineering department funded the purchase of the equipment.”

Mechanical engineering freshman Mackenzie Love said the studio will provide access to equipment that will allow them to work on both school and personal projects.

“It’s great; it’s one of the only places where you can walk in without having any of  your own material and build whatever you like to,” Love said. “I’ve primarily worked with the 3-D printers; the 3-D printers are breaking barriers to access, which I could not individually afford.”

Visiting the studio for the first time, biomedical engineering senior Mishaal Rahman said there was a lot of space for students to work, and the equipment was organized and positioned well.

“I think I’m going to use it for personal projects,” Rahamm said. “Most engineering departments have their own 3-D printers, but, for personal projects, I’ll come here.”

Photo Credit: Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: Sharon Wood took over as dean of the Cockrell School of Engineering on Sept. 1. Starting October 2013, she had served as interim dean after current Provost Gregory Fenves’ promotion. The Daily Texan editorial board sat down with her recently in the first of a number of interviews with the University’s 18 school and college deans to sound her out on a number of issues of concern to students. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

The Daily Texan: What would you say your main goals are for Cockrell as you get started with this new position?

Sharon Wood: We have a lot of traditional classes now where it’s lecture-based, and I don’t think that’s necessarily the most effective in trying to engage students in engineering. We want to move to having more project-based classes and hands-on learning opportunities. The trouble is right now, we’re constrained very much by our facilities. So when the EERC [Engineering Education and Research Center] opens, we will be able to have new labs that the students will be able to use for this ... That’s the number one goal, is really to try to enhance the educational experience for the undergrads.

DT: And how about for graduate students?

Wood: The north tower is going to be focused on interdisciplinary research, and right now, if you have an interdisciplinary team of faculty, we’re so tight on space. It’s hard to get all the grad students together. They’re in their departments, but they’re doing interdisciplinary research, so they don’t have as many interactions as they really should. 

DT: Could you tell us a little bit more about the importance of the EERC?

Wood: The EERC is really essential for us right now because we’re basically beyond capacity of all of our facilities. We had ENS, which they’re going to start tearing down in a couple months, where we had essentially large empty spaces — almost an entire floor — because we couldn’t provide the power for it ... We were trying to do cutting edge research in a building that just couldn’t accommodate it.

DT: It’s very commonly known that the number of women in science majors is a lot lower than men, so what are you doing to help close that gap?

Wood: Both last year and this year, we have an all-time record high of female undergraduate students in the Cockrell school, and the percentage of female students is a record high ... Our Women in Engineering Program, which has been around for about 25 years, has been incredibly successful in reaching out to K-12 students, showing them that engineering is an exciting career opportunity ... Sometimes you can attract women to come into engineering, but then they get discouraged, so [Women in Engineering runs] ... all kinds of programs to help women, support women throughout their entire time here, so that they build a community ... The school for many years has been really aggressive in trying to find female faculty members, because if you’re a young women coming into the school, and all the role models are male, you start questioning, “Well, should I be here?” but we are in some departments, we’re up over 20 percent female faculty.

DT: So switching gears a little bit, what sort of collaboration do you hope to see between Cockrell and the new medical school?

Wood: We think there’s a tremendous opportunity to work with the Dell Medical School ... They’re just in the process of selecting department chairs right now ... They have to have kind of a sense of who will be hired before they can really start making commitments on research. But we do have opportunities for joint hires and that sort of thing, which I think will help build that synergy with the med school.

DT: What sorts of opportunities are available to engineering undergraduates who want to do research?

Wood: The model across campus is what Natural Sciences does. They have that Freshman Research Initiative program. We don’t have an organized program like that, but we do have a large percent of our students who are engaged in research in the laboratories ... The reason why research is exciting is because the solution isn’t known, and so the attempts you make and the path you take to get to a solution is almost as important as coming up with a solution itself.

DT: The whole state is pushing four-year graduation rates a lot. What do y’all do particularly in your college, because engineering is a very difficult major?

Wood: It is a difficult major, and I think the culture was, “Oh, if I finish in five years or six years, it’s not that big a deal.” So we’ve really tried to focus on four-year graduations ... We’ve taken a look at the courses where we have the highest number of students who get lower than a C ... We’re putting extra resources into those... They were all outstanding students in high school, and they hit the first roadblock, and they think, “Oh, maybe engineering isn’t for me.” We’re trying to show them that, “No, if you work a little harder, you can probably get through that, and you’re going to be a great engineer.”

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

The Cockrell School of Engineering received a $35 million donation from UT alumnus T.W. “Tom” Whaley Jr., the University announced Thursday.

 Whaley, who died in 2013, received his doctorate in electrical engineering from the Cockrell School in 1968. According to the school, his donation will provide $1.6 million in annual merit scholarships for high school students in Texas to study engineering at Cockrell.

“It’s phenomenal,” Cockrell school dean Sharon Wood said. “It was a total surprise when we got the gift, and it’s going to have a huge impact on our students.”

As the largest endowed scholarship the University has ever received to date, Wood said the gift is divided into two parts – the Cockrell school received the first $20 million during the spring semester and will receive the remaining $15 million by the end of 2015.

In addition, Whaley also gave the University 700 mineral rights across 10 states, which the school expects will significantly contribute to the University’s annual income. The Cockrell school plans to use some of the additional income to fund more fellowships for both graduate students and undergraduates, Wood said.

“It’s going to allow us to attract the best students from across the state of Texas to come to the Cockrell school, and we’re really excited about that,” Wood said.

For the 2014-15 academic year, the endowment allows 34 incoming freshmen to study engineering across the seven departments of Cockrell. The school also plans to design multi-year scholarships for future freshmen, Wood said.

John Jennings, incoming mechanical engineering freshman, said he is thankful Whaley’s scholarship will help him get through college.

“I’m really happy I don’t have to worry about finances,” Jennings said.

David Anderson, Whaley’s attorney and executor of his estate, could not be reached for comment.

A record number of women enrolled in the Cockrell School of Engineering for the fall 2013 semester.

Women make up 29 percent of the school’s freshman class this semester, a first. Additionally, 1,345 of the 5,614 undergraduates, or 24 percent of the students, within the college are women.

“I am thrilled and proud that the Cockrell School’s female enrollment numbers are hitting all-time highs and falling in line with national trends,” said Sharon Wood, interim dean of the Cockrell School and the first woman to hold that position, in a statement. “We will continue to provide programs and initiatives aimed at recruiting and retaining women in engineering. These students bring perspectives and problem-solving skills that will propel the field of engineering forward.”

Sandra Zaragoza, spokeswoman for the engineering school, said UT’s increase in female enrollment is in keeping with national trends.

“More women are enrolling in engineering nationally,” Zaragoza said.

Tricia Berry, director of the Women in Engineering Program at the engineering school, said the program has been in existence at the University for 22 years. Berry said during that period, the percentage of women enrolled in the college has been steadily increasing.

According to Berry, program initiatives designed to attract women include hosting summer camps focused on introducing girls to opportunities in engineering and creating mentorship programs meant to connect current students and UT alumnae with potential students.

“When you have a more diverse student body, this brings a lot more to the table,” Berry said. “There’s a lot more creativity, lot more variety brought to the classroom. When you have a lot more diversity in your environment, you have a lot more solutions.”

After the Cockrell School of Engineering got a $10 million donation for its new Engineering Education and Research Center, Gregory Fenves, dean of the Cockrell School, said the new facilities will make the University an even more competitive recruiting force for engineering students.

National Instruments CEO and president James Truchard made the $10 million personal donation because he said the University was lacking a central location where engineering students can innovate and collaborate. The Engineering Education and Research Center is scheduled to open in 2017 and will replace the Engineering-Science Building (ENS). Truchard’s donation will help fund the National Instruments Student Project Center, which will allow engineering students of all disciplines to take part in more hands-on projects during the course of their college careers.

According to the EERC website, the center is a $310 million project, with the majority of funding coming from the UT System Board of Regents, the University itself and the state of Texas. The Cockrell School has been making efforts to raise the remaining funds through private donations by individuals and corporations.

Truchard is an alumnus of the University, holding a doctorate in electrical engineering as well as a master’s and a bachelor’s degree in physics, according to his biography.

Fenves said donations result in naming opportunities for sections of the building proportional to the amount and importance of the donation.

“Naming opportunities for the building range all the way from an office to the entire building,” Fenves said. “This is a recognition of the gift, so there’s no direct relationship in how we use the space or what kind of equipment we use, although we do use a lot of National Instruments equipment because it’s good equipment.”

The naming of building sectors is an important opportunity for companies hoping to recruit UT engineering students upon graduation, Fenves said.

“Our engineering graduates are in very high demand,” Fenves said. “One of the reasons companies are interested in the EERC is name recognition. Students are going to go through the building and see the name of the company, so when it comes time to apply for jobs and begin the hiring process, many companies feel that name recognition will help in their recruiting process.”

Julia Betts, corporate communications and investor relations manager for National Instruments, said the company brings a positive presence to the university level, providing excellent facilities and equipment for students to practice with in their chosen fields.

“Having strong facilities for student experiences in engineering and science are a factor in attracting students to Austin which benefits the local community and National Instruments,” Betts said. “National Instruments presence on campuses is always helpful in demonstrating the impact and value of our technologies to students.”

Garrett Galow, electrical engineering senior and vice president of internal affairs for the Student Engineering Council, said National Instruments already holds a large presence as an employment opportunity for UT graduates. He said he was not surprised by the generosity of Truchard’s gift to the engineering school due to his giving nature.

“I worked for National Instruments doing internships and somewhat met Dr. Truchard before,” Galow said. “He’s a really kind man and he doesn’t fit the stereotype of a CEO at all. He’s very generous and this definitely seems like something he would do. I think it’s a great thing.”

Printed on Tuesday, January 15th, 2013 as: Engineering center helped by donation from CEO